Saturday 25 November 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: Disruptive replay scenario puts increased pressure on Jim Gavin and Stephen Rochford

Jim Gavin and Stephen Rochford
Jim Gavin and Stephen Rochford
Tomás Ó Se

Tomás Ó Se

Pat McEnaney lets a blast of the whistle. The All-Ireland final of 2000 is over and that's it. Except that's not it at all. It's a draw and the strange sort of silence falls around the place. What was a roar turns into a gentle hum. And you're there on the pitch left with nothing to go on. No road map for what to do next.

Now I wasn't even off the pitch but my mind was already racing. The deal with an All-Ireland final is that the rest of the things you'd been putting on hold before that are given priority after it. And clearly, that couldn't happen here.

I was a student in Mary I in Limerick at the time and was due to start teaching practice the following week. Now teaching practice was a big deal. You had to get it right and it meant long days and late night preparing notes and lessons. Having a replay thrown into the mix was a disaster for me. Walking off the pitch that day a part of me would have taken a defeat rather than have to face down the next fortnight.

Luckily, there was a man called Seán de Brúin was in the college at the time. I can only describe him as a mad Kerryman. He loved Kerry and loved football and he saw the problem I was facing.

So he found me one day and frogmarched me up to the Head of the College. Now I wasn't the best student to ever go through the place so I hadn't any chips I could cash in. But Seán carried the fight for me. Anyway, there was a meeting where he explained that there was no way I could do my teaching practice and prepare for an All-Ireland final. Something had to give and of course for Seán that had to be the teaching. I kept my mouth shut and my head down. It was agreed I'd catch up on it later in the year.

Getting that sorted was a big deal for me. I was looking for my first All-Ireland medal that year and Seán helped clear the way for me to prepare properly. It's vital that players put everything in the back seat for those couple of weeks.

We'd win the replay. And I can say getting out of the college work was vital for me personally. But as a team I think we took the first steps towards winning in the minutes after the drawn game in the dressing room.

I remember PO and Seamo (Moynihan) spoke. They told us what to be ready for on the outside. That people would say we missed our chance because we had built up a bit of a lead at one stage and lost it. Moynihan said he didn't care how long we'd to stay in Dublin, that we weren't coming home without the cup.

Put it this way, my head was a lot clearer leaving the dressing room than it was leaving the field just half an hour earlier.

We did little in the way of training in those weeks. Had a few chats and ran through a few things. I remember in the drawn game I had followed Michael Donnellan and kept him scoreless but he had had a big influence on the game.

For the replay Tom O'Sullivan tracked him. Donnellan got two points but wasn't as influential as the first day. It was a small change that Páidí made but it turned out to be a big one.

You know more than any other time, I think a manager proves his worth between replays. He's the guy who'll settle your mind and refocus it and the sooner that's done the better. There's no other scenario where they are as important as they are then.

For a player coming off the pitch after a draw, the first voice he'll hear is his manager's. He sets the tone, he sets the agenda for the next fortnight.

And it's during the two games where the little tweaks or big changes they make will be the winning and the losing of the game. Back in 2000, Páidí opted to keep Maurice Fitzgerald on the bench. Maurice had been brilliant as a sub in both semi-finals and there was pressure on him to start.

He liked having him to come in though and it worked out for the best. But it could have easily blown up in his face. Losing an All-Ireland final and not starting Maurice? Jesus, you can imagine the fall-out from that one? He must have been feeling the pressure that week.

Now Stephen Rochford and Jim Gavin have similarly big calls to make. In one sense, Rochford has more work to do. Like Mayo were brilliant the last day. Not perfect but brilliant all the same. They got so much right. But getting it through to those players that it won't be good enough in a week's time is his challenge. And while he did well to get that level of performance out of them, it's an even bigger challenge to get them to be even better next weekend.

The backs are bailing Mayo out all the time and the forwards needs to repay them, particularly the O'Sheas and Cillian O'Connor. I know Cillian got the leveller the last day but there's more in him, likewise for Aidan. I'd love to see him parked around the 'D' with Andy Moran and Cillian close by.

They need three forwards inside the '45 at all times and keep their shape. If Aidan got hold of possession in there and was able to get four or five runs at that Dublin defence, he'll create scores for others if they loop around him or he'll go all the way himself. It's risk or reward but it's worth the risk.

Getting them to improve in their delivery to their forwards and perfecting their running game is probably high on the list. They need to vary their approach in attack a little bit because they stretched Dublin the last day without ever actually pulling them apart.

I think they can get more from Lee Keegan too. He did well to blot out Diarmuid Connolly the last day but he's a great attacker. I think he can keep tabs on Connolly and get forward more too.

In any case, Mayo will have to improve because Dublin certainly will.

Now, Gavin's case is more interesting. His side were flat, like I've never seen them. They looked dead, heavy-legged and unable to match the fire Mayo brought. The team in general, and the forwards in particular, were outplayed. They have probably never been as bad under him.

As a unit, it looked like the Mayo defenders have them cracked. Diarmuid Connolly wasn't in it. Kevin McManamon didn't look like the cousin of a man who is in the Footballer of the Year shake-up. They lost their shape late on. They looked out of ideas and out of puff. And for once they didn't get the big lift off their bench they might have expected because they were under severe pressure to perform.

I also feel it's an insult to all the defenders training with Dublin that Ciarán Kilkenny is the first player called into action when there's a problem at the back. They need him in attack and five points is a paltry return from a player capable of blitzing opposition.

Now Gavin has a big decision to make. He can stick with the tried and trusted. Send them out in a week's time and tell them they are on borrowed time and hope for a reaction. Hope that by issuing them an ultimatum, it will spark them into the kind of form we're used to.

Or he can change it up, get hard-nosed about it and drop the lads who have contributed the least over the last couple of games.

And that's Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan (pictured left).

Now those two boys have been brilliant for Dublin. I've gone eyeball to eyeball with them and I'd have them both in the top five players Dublin have had over the last 30 years.

But they haven't been doing it and everyone knows it, none more so than the two boys themselves. Question marks also surround Dean Rock, who was under pressure physically and was rattled so much that his free-taking suffered. The onus is on him to perform as well but it could go either way with regards to their selection.

But there's a problem in dropping big names like that. You need to know how it will go down with the lads themselves and with the squad as a whole. Within a panel, some lads are undroppable for whatever reason. They can be the manager's most trusted players or his favourites. He just won't go to war without them.

So pulling the pin on big players can be hard. I never felt like I was one of those 'undroppable' players with Jack O'Connor. He never actually dropped me but he did take me off. I sometimes felt like there was an axe hanging over my head. And sometimes it was a good thing and sometimes it weighed me down.

Like, Marc got dropped and it soured him. Now he used it in the right way and got his chance and played well. But not everyone will be able to channel their energy like he did. I'm not sure how I would have handled it.

So changing out the likes of Flynn and Brogan is a big call. But can you imagine the lift Dublin would get if Brogan or Flynn came off the bench with 20 minutes to go. Particularly Brogan as an inside forward who might grab a couple of crucial scores late on.

And that's a tempting prospect but the other question around all this is who he might bring in to start. Mayo, defensively, are on top form if the draw is anything to go by.

Now Gavin looks to have some great talent on the bench but in terms of championship these lads have been coming off the bench and generally been the difference between winning a game by ten or 15 points.

Throwing them into an All-Ireland final from the start against Mayo's rabid defence would be a different ask. I'm not saying they aren't able. I'm just saying we don't know for sure.

There are more straightforward changes Gavin could make. Leaving Kevin McManamon out would be the easy call because of what he can do off the bench but I'd have in him my team. I'd like to see Andrews in from the start because he's in form.

And I'd start Denis Bastick and cut Brian Fenton loose and let him go forward as much as possible because Mayo just couldn't cope with him the last day. But leaving Brogan and/or Flynn out. That's a call I'm glad I don't have to make.

So there's loads of moving parts this week. Loads of small decisions that could be the winning or the losing of the game.

The only problem for Gavin and Rochford is that they won't know whether they got them right until 7.0 next Saturday night.

Irish Independent

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